Tayside and Central Scotland

Arbroath marks bicentenary of Bell Rock Lighthouse

Computer-generated image of the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse
Image caption It took four years for craftsmen to complete construction of the lighthouse

A year of celebrations has been lined up in Arbroath to mark the bicentenary of the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, which stands 11 miles (18km) from the town's harbour, is thought to have saved many lives since it was completed in 1811.

Officials in Arbroath have organised a series of events called Year of the Light to commemorate its role.

They include a memorial service to those who perished on the Bell Rock.

Regarded by many as one of the great engineering feats of the 19th Century, the tower was constructed on a treacherous sandstone reef by a large team of craftsmen, many of whom lived in Arbroath.

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Media captionWhy the Bell Rock lighthouse is so important

The tower, which is 115ft (35m) tall, was designed by Robert Stevenson, who drew inspiration from the Eddystone Lighthouse, off the coast of Cornwall. The chief engineer for the project was John Rennie.

David Taylor, whose great-great-great-grandfather Capt David Taylor was closely involved in the construction of the lighthouse, said the Bell Rock reef had claimed countless vessels before the tower was completed.

He continued: "Following the great storm of 1799 on the east coast of Scotland, at least 70 vessels came to grief, if not on the Bell Rock itself, certainly on the neighbouring shores trying to avoid it.

"However, it wasn't until 1806 - and not before the loss of the 64-gun man-of-war HMS York with all hands on board in 1804 - that permission to build the lighthouse was finally granted."

Constructing the lighthouse proved a huge undertaking as the reef where the lighthouse was to be built was only visible for a few hours a day, and work was severely restricted by the weather and the seasons.

Working on the Bell Rock was only possible between April and October because the winter months were so stormy.

Image caption Robert Stevenson drew up the plans for the tower's design.

After only four years, the tower was completed and it became operational on 1 February, 1811.

The 2011 Year of the Light celebrations drawn up by Arbroath and Area Partnership will include a spectacular firework display, a yacht regatta and a memorial service to those who have lost their lives on the Bell Rock over the centuries.

Harry Simpson, chair of the partnership's Year of the Light steering committee, said: "2011 is going to be a memorable year for everyone with a connection to Arbroath or to the Bell Rock - whether they live in the town, or their ancestors were from Arbroath or worked on the Bell Rock."

Northern Lighthouse Board chief executive Roger Lockwood commented: "Two hundred years on, the Bell Rock lighthouse remains an impressive engineering achievement.

"I am sure that Robert Stevenson would be pleased to know that, in its modern automated form, the light is still successfully providing the service to mariners he originally envisaged."

He added: "Technologies may have developed but the Bell Rock reef remains a real off-shore hazard for shipping traffic on the east coast of Scotland and we will need to continue to mark it well into the future."

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